The Gilded Ones Climbs the Charts in YA Fantasy and for Good Reason

This is a book to get excited about!  

I listen to audiobooks on some days when I walk.  It may be that the voices Shayna Small created for each character (Irish for Brita, Jamaican for Kato) made the book more charming, but it's Namina Forna's writing that kept me going. 

Deka is a young girl living in the small village of Irhut, in the kingdom of Otera.  When girls are 16, they undergo a blood ritual to determine their worth.  If they are pure and bleed red, they can ready themselves for marriage.  In an unexpected turn of events at her purity ritual, it is revealed that her blood runs gold, not red.  

She is an Alaki, impure, and must face a consequence worse than death.  Deka is saved by a mysterious woman, who arrives to take her away to the Warthu Bera, where she will train to be an elite killer for the Emperor of Otera.

While this all might sound gruesome, it's not. For example, The Hunger Games dealt with death, but readers were more caught up in Katniss's character development. In The Gilded Ones, Forna's descriptions do the same thing.  She explains how the girls must radically shift their thinking from subservience to being allies on a battlefield.

Alaki are despised in their communities, which makes the Warthu Bera special, a place where Deka and her fellow blood-sisters learn to support, respect, and grow together, regardless of their backgrounds or skin color.  It's nice that there aren't any "mean girl" antics in this book, a wearisome trait that can sometimes be found in books with female protagonists.

As Deka learns about her more unusual powers, she begins to question what she and her fellow Alaki are asked to do.  Who is telling the truth?  Why is she different from the rest of the girls?  It takes until the end of the book for her to discover that friendship is thicker than blood and that not everyone in a position of power can be respected.

I really appreciated how Forna tackled tough topics with a strong theme of working and growing together.  Racism, patriarchy, and feminism are explored in this book in a way that will make sense for upper elementary and middle school readers.  I also enjoyed watching Deka turn from a fearful, beaten-down young girl into a strong, resilient fighter and loyal friend.

Teachers who are looking for action-packed books with a strong, female, character of color need to look no further!

  • Do your students need help with Problem and Solution text structure?  Click here to get lesson plans that are in digital and pdf forms, with video clips to help learning.

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